The American Express Championship might still be better known to most as the Bob Hope Classic, a throwback event to an era when big time celebrities and professional golf went hand in hand.
Like its sibling the Bing Crosby Classic (now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), the draw at these events in those early days wasn’t the golfers but the movie stars and legendary singers of the time.
Founded in 1960, the tournament has been a mainstay on the PGA Tour’s desert swing for more than 60 years though has been through numerous changes over that time.
Once played over five rounds (the only PGA Tour event to do so), the format was changed to the more traditional 72 holes in 2012 and has remained since.
Featuring a large contingent of amateurs, the tournament is played over three courses in the Coachella Valley – PGA West Stadium Course, La Quinta Country Club and PGA West Nicklaus Course.
The Stadium Course is played twice for the week as the field will play it once between Thursday and Saturday and it also hosts the final round.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Si Woo Kim held off a fast-finishing Patrick Cantlay in a COVID affected event in 2021.
RIGHT: Si Woo Kim was victorious last year in California, the South Korean taking home his third PGA Tour title. PHOTO: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images.
Cantlay blistered the once feared Stadium Course with a remarkable 11-under round of 61 to grab the clubhouse lead while Kim still had several holes to play.
The 2017 Players Champion was up to the task, though, making birdie on two of the final three holes for an impressive 8-under final round of his own and a one shot victory.
It was Kim’s third Tour title.
COURSE: The three courses used in the rotation for this event all have stories to tell.
Pete Dye’s Stadium Course at PGA West played so difficult when it made its debut in 1987 that Tour members signed a petition refusing to return in 1988.
Built in the years after Dyes’ other most famous controversial creation – TPC Sawgrass – the layout was considered too hard for the event and it stayed off the schedule until 2016.
Like TPC Sawgrass, the course has undergone multiple changes over those years to make it more palatable for the field and it is now a mainstay on the rotation.
The Nicklaus tournament course is more in keeping with what might be expected at a resort facility though does offer enough challenge to keep the pros on their toes.
It is wide off the tee allowing for crooked drives but the greens tend to be well guarded and offer a variety of challenge for those who miss the target.
Not dissimilar in look and feel to the more famous Stadium Course, many believe this is one of Nicklaus’ better design efforts.
While both the Stadium and Nicklaus courses opened in the 1980’s and are quintessential ‘modern’ layouts, the La Quinta Country Club is a vastly different proposition.
Opened in 1959, it plays the easiest of the three courses and offers little in the way of scoring resistance to the modern Tour professional.
It is tighter off the tee than either of the other two but La Quinta has few defences against the long, high ball hitting PGA Tour field.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: World No.1 Jon Rahm won this tournament in 2018 but returns for the first time since then.
Having picked up in Hawaii where he left off in a spectacular 2021, the Spaniard will rightly be among the favourites in a tournament that rewards players who make a lot of birdies.
Rahm made 32 of them in Hawaii two weeks ago and was 22-under when he won in a play-off over Andrew Landry four years ago.
However, Rahm won’t have it all his own way with the other standout player of 2012, Patrick Cantlay, also more than comfortable in this event.
In three starts he has missed the cut once (in 2013) but finished T9 and runner-up in his other two appearances.
Now ranked fourth in the world, the Californian won twice last year including late in the season at the BMW Championship.
His fourth place finish in Hawaii a fortnight ago flew under the radar and he will be one of the danger players this week.
Less high profile but a player who has been impressive in recent months is Irishman Seamus Power.
The winner of the Barbasol Championship last year was T3 in Hawaii, the latest in a string of strong performances.
He missed the cut here last year but was T11 and T21 in two previous appearances and in current form could surprise this week.
While an unlikely contender it will also be interesting to see the form of Jason Day who tees up for the first time since missing the cut at the RSM Classic in November last year.
Day has never played this event before and after struggling with injuries for much of the past year this week may be a good indication of where his game, and health, are at.
72-HOLE RECORD: 260 (-28, Patrick Reed, 2014)
18-HOLE RECORD: 61 (Stadium Course, Patrick Cantlay, 2021); 59 (La Quinta Country Club, Adam Hadwin, 2017); 59 (Nicklaus Tournament Course, Harrison Frazar, 2008)
PAST AUSSIE WINNERS: Bruce Devlin (1970).
AUSTRALIANS IN THE FIELD: Brett Drewitt and Jason Day.
Round 1: Friday (Fox Sports 503 7am –11am)
Round 2: Saturday (Fox Sports 503 7am – 11am)
Round 3: Sunday (Fox Sports 503 7am – 11am)
Round 4: Monday (Fox Sports 503 7am – 11am)
*AEDT, check local guides